As we know, Shavuot is the time when the Jewish people accepted the Torah and became Hashem’s nation. When we read the book of Ruth to children, we teach them the values of tzedakah, commitment, making choices, kindness, sharing, respect and faith. Throughout the story there are numerous examples of individuals focusing on each other. Most notably, Naomi and Ruth create a mutual relationship through their faith and determination.
For us, building relationships requires open communication and leading, or teaching by example. Our Jewish values are the foundation. They are the values of Jewish history and text, made relevant by our own lives, and the choices we make. Young children have a hard time understanding the concept of sharing. They view themselves as the center of the world, and see the world only from their own perspective. They do not easily see the viewpoint of another person.
Even at a young age, sharing is a learned behavior. It is up to us to instill in our children the value of sharing and giving. We can help children learn to express their feelings and understand the feelings of others by helping them through the early years.
Children also need the opportunity to make choices. Children thrive when they have opportunities every day to make choices in their learning. We facilitate children’s choices within the environment of the school. We create the environment to allow each child to choose activities that are meaningful to him/her. The children choose the peers with whom they will work and play, and usually determine how they will use the materials.
These choices empower children to take control of their own learning. Children use materials and equipment in far more creative and innovative ways than we ever plan, and they use the materials in ways that meet their own developmental needs. Research indicates that intrinsic motivation – when we work on something primarily because we find it satisfying – is the most effective and engaging way to learn.
By making choices, the children can create their own rules and guidelines. As a connection to understand the Ten Commandments, we have the children come up with their own “Ten Commandments,” or work together to make a set of “commandments” for the classroom (“Treat each other nicely,” “Share your toys,” “Clean your area,” etc.) We decorate our list and display it on the bulletin board. We talk about the choices we make in creating these rules and why rules are important.
Engaging young children to be aware and have an understanding of Jewish values will help them as they grow into young adults. Using the story of Ruth and the holiday of Shavuot is a beautiful way to introduce these values to our children and to give them opportunities to practice them in their every day life.
Dawn Kreisberg M.A. is the Director of Olam Jewish Montessori Early Childhood Center and educational leader in Jewish education.